Homestead Update

Posting has been sparse lately.  Sorry for that, but we have been enjoying living the busy homestead life, and no offense, but the last thing I want to do is come in from my garden or barnyard on a beautiful day and sit at the computer.  🙂

There is so much to update, I don’t know where to start….I guess we will start in the barnyard.

Chickens

The hens are all doing well.  Frodo, the rooster, has been moved down into the lower coop alone to allow the hens backs a break from his affection.

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We have butchered some of this year’s cockerels, and still have plenty more that are still only 5 weeks old.  We have one cockerel that is 18 weeks old that we have held back from butchering.  He is built really well and is not aggressive, so he is in the running for next year’s breeding cockerel.

The pullets hatched in Jan-March of this year are now beginning to lay, so we have tons of eggs.  The chicks with the mama hens, Banana and Eve, are growing well.

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Meat Rabbits

We have adorable baby bunnies!   I told you about the first litter, born about 3 weeks ago.  They are now at the oh-so-adorable stage.

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We had a second litter born to our Rex doe Indi earlier this week.  There are 8 kits, though one is quite a runt so we will see if that little guy makes it.  We usually force-feed the runts on the mama rabbit.  However, this is Indi’s first litter and she is acting pretty grouchy about us messing with her or them.  She is not a very friendly rabbit to begin with, so we decided not to risk her abandoning all of them by messing her.

Sheep

The sheep are doing well.  The lamb’s growth has slowed so the difference in them from week to week is not noticeable.  Husband sheared Fiona, our CVM x Merino ewe this week.  She is sure happy to not be carrying around a huge fleece in the summer heat (not that it has been terribly hot here, it has actually been very pleasant).  The raw skirted fleece weighed 4 lbs.  We haven’t washed it yet.  He also sheared Oliver, the angora bunny.  My pile of angora fiber is growing.  We really need to get a drum carder so we can start making some mixed fiber roving to spin from the sheep wool and bunny wool.

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Fiona, just sheared (left) and her ewe lamb from this year, Lily (right)

Canning and Freezing

We have been canning like crazy – apples, dill pickles, sweet pickles, and green beans from the garden.  We have also been freezing carrots and celery.

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Wool in the Garden?

We have some sort of rodent that has taken up residence in our garden.  We think it is a vole.  It has done plenty of damage to the celery, carrots, peas, and some tomato plants.

We did not line our garden boxes with hardware cloth because most of this garden was built right onto the bedrock (welcome to the Rocky Mountains!).  There were a few boxes that weren’t on bedrock, but we decided not to line them.  Big mistake!  We will have to dig them out later this fall and line them to prevent this from happening again.  But meanwhile, the good news is that the bedrock has this critter confined to only two of our garden boxes.

We have set out all different traps – rat sized, mice sized, even sticky paper down in the tunnels.  Nothing has worked.  Husband disturbs the tunnels and the critter just digs them again and builds new ones.

A thought occurred to him while he was shearing Fiona.  We use the raw wool skirtings (the un-useable pieces from the belly, legs, and rear of the sheep) to insulate the barn and coops because not only does it insulate, but it keeps the rodents away because they don’t like the lanolin found naturally in the wool.  So he figured, maybe it would deter this rodent too.

After he was done shearing he took the skirtings and stuffed them down in the rodent holes in the garden.  He also put a few piles around the bases of the plants in the garden box that the rodent is in.  This was only a few days ago, but so far so good.  No sign of more damage, nor more tunnels.  We will see if it works long-term.  But maybe using wool skirtings to deter rodents in the garden will become a new natural way for us to deal with them!

The garden is doing aaaaaaamazing!  It is so beautiful this time of year, and heavy with produce.

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We have been very busy harvesting carrots, beans, a few tomatoes, turnips, beets, squash, zucchini, and cabbage the last few weeks.  And of course, we continue to have a constant supply of fresh salad from the lettuce and spinach.  The harvest amounts are looking excellent so far, even though we aren’t done.  Many of the vegetables will beat out last year’s harvest.  I won’t post numbers until the harvest is finished, but I will say that just today we harvested 17.5 lbs of carrots.  It’s been awesome!

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The herb garden has produced well this year too!  We have been hanging herbs to dry for the winter.

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Heritage Arts

Yes, even with the beautiful weather we are making progress on heritage arts projects.  In the evenings, and when we need to come inside to get a break, we pick up our knitting and cross stitch and work on them.

My oldest daughter has taken up cross-stitch recently and loves it.  She is really talented at it too.  I will post pictures of her projects as she finished them.

I am in the middle of two different large knitting projects, a dress and a cardigan.  So I wont likely have much to show for quite a while.  But that doesn’t mean we aren’t still at it!

Fall Has Arrived in the High Rockies

Yup, we had our first light frost a few days ago.  This is the earliest frost we have had in my 8 years gardening at this location.  Thankfully it didn’t hit the micro-climate of our garden, so no damage was done.  But there was definitely scraping of windshields and other such morning frost activities all around us.  We have even had a few small fires in the wood stove a couple of mornings this last week because it was so chilly.  We love fall – a fire in the wood stove, a cup of hot tea, and a blanket on the couch is a good way to start the morning.  I just want my garden to get a few more weeks of growth before it is all over.

The elk have started bugling and gathering their harems as well.  We spotted this guy from our car a few days ago.  He was eating the leaves off this tree and his large antler rack got tangled in branches.  He later freed himself and enjoyed eating all that he had torn down.

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It is hard to believe it is already fall!

That’s the update from our little homestead in the mountains.

2014 Year-End Homestead Review

It is time for the end of year review again! It has been a great year, full of successes, failures, and plenty of learning and adventure. It was great to look back at the last year at the homestead.

First, some statistics…

Chickens:

  • We had anywhere from 26-65 chickens of all different ages on the farm this year
  • 3,548 eggs were laid
  • 164 dozen of those eggs were sold
  • 109.5 dozen of those eggs were used by us
  • 283 eggs were set to hatch
  • 122 chicks hatched successfully
  • 19 chickens were sold as layers for other people’s flocks
  • 35 chickens were butchered for meat for us
  • 66 chicks were sold right after hatch
  • 1 hen died from being egg-bound

The chicken program has done excellently this year.  Gotta love the livestock that more than earns its keep!

Rabbits:

In January we had several deaths in the rabbitry that took us back to square one as far as building our meat rabbit herd.  So we decided to stop with meat rabbits for the time being and get back into them sometime in the future.

In June we added Oliver, an English Angora, to the farm as both a pet and a fiber producing animal.  He has had 3 shearings this year that produced 2 ounces of use-able fiber.  A lot of fiber was lost to us learning how to properly manage and shear his coat.

Cows:

We sold our milk cow in January.

We butchered our 8-month-old JLow bull calf and got 102 lbs of meat (steak, roast, ground, & stew meat), 22 lbs of soup bones, and 10 lbs of dog food.  This year my dad requested organ meat, so we also had 6.6 lbs of meat organs

Sheep:

The sheep produced 4 fleece for us this year, 2 of which were first fleece and 2 adult fleece, for a total of 24 lbs of raw wool.  We also got 1 sheep hide from our ram lamb.

We butchered our first ever ram lamb (purchased as a weanling, not born on the farm).  We got 30 lbs of meat, 4 lbs of soup bones, 4 lbs of dog food, and 7 lbs of fat to render.

Garden:

The gardens did very well this year, producing about 150 lbs of produce for us.

For the specific garden statistics, read our garden review posts here, here, and here.

With the help of all the animals we continue to produce large amounts of very rich compost for use on our garden.  We have also had enough to share with friends.

Heritage Arts:

  • I knit 1 infinity scarf, 1 cowl, 3 scarves, 1 hat, 4 pairs of socks, 1 pair of mittens, 2 ear-warmer headbands, 1 sweater, 1 cell phone case, 1 skirt, and 2 neck/face warmers.
  • I sewed numerous cloth napkins for our family use, 1 gathering apron, 2 summer dresses for daughters,  6 pairs of kids’ flannel pajama pants, 4 pairs kids pajama shorts, 2 nightgowns, 1 pair of adult flannel pajama pants, numerous hen jackets, 15 napkins and 5 placemats for a gift with 3 coordinating quilted hot pads, and 1 single-sized quilt.  Plus tons of mending, mostly patching jeans.
  • I embroidered 1 gingham embroidery bread cloth.
  • I took a class in needle tatting and made one heart bookmark using that method.
  • I spun 145.5 yards of worsted weight 2-ply merino/angora yarn, a small amount of single-ply Lincoln Longwool, and I am about half-way through spinning 4 ounces of hand-dyed superfine merino.

In the Kitchen:

We canned the equivalent of 172 quarts of food this year (some were pints, some half-pints, etc but we added it up to how many quarts of food it was).  They included: whole peaches in honey syrup, peach jam, salsa, sliced dill pickles, dill spears, sweet spears, mixed berry jam, blueberry pie filling, plum jelly, crabapple jelly, apples in honey syrup, strawberry jam, cherry jelly, chicken stock, turkey stock, beef stock, and lamb stock.

We also froze 30 lbs (72 cups) of carrots and 30 lbs (77 cups) of green beans from the garden.

 

 

And now for some highlights from the homestead in 2014:

In January our life was dominated by the huge kitchen remodel project.  On the farm we had our first incubation of the year and had our first-ever broody hen successfully set and hatch eggs for us.  I learned how to knit socks two-at-a-time on 2 circular needles.  And we made the difficult decisions to end our rabbitry for the time being as well as sell our JLow milk cow, Violet.

February brought record-breaking cold weather.  On one of our last days with our milk cow in early February the milk froze on the side of the pail. We butchered our beef calf, continued with the kitchen remodel, and collected eggs for our 2nd incubation.  I focused on knitting and spinning quite a bit.

March added two new sheep to the farm; weanling lambs Daphne and Duncan.  We did all our garden planning and the second incubation of the year hatched.  Our second broody hen, Eve, began setting her first hatch.

In April we began work on building the last garden terrace and we started many seeds indoors.  Eve hatched her first brood of chicks and we incubated our largest incubation ever and sold all the chicks to a friend.  We also remodeled my little craft room.

In May we celebrated our second year anniversary on the farm.  We installed our garden drip system and planted six berry bushes.  I resorted to putting clothing on livestock when I figured out the pattern for chicken jackets and used them to protect my hens’ backs from the rooster’s claws.  We had a deep wet spring snow mid-month that stopped our spring productivity for several days.  Banana hatched her second brood of chicks for the year, and Ruth began setting for the first time.  We moved seedlings out into the garden in wall-o-waters for protection.  Lastly, I tried my hand at making my own body products.

June was a full month!  We battled aphids and flea beetles in the garden.  We made the hard decision to butcher our favorite roo, Boaz, since his foot injury (frostbite from the winter) made it so he couldn’t successfully breed anymore.  We added Oliver, our English Angora rabbit, to the farm.  Our ewe lamb, Daphne, gave us a big scare when she had an anyphalactic reaction to a vaccine, but thankfully she survived it with an epinephrine shot.  Mid-month we had a terrible hail storm that caused a lot of damage in the gardens.  We installed more permanent fencing around the barnyard and expanded its size.  At the end of the month Ruth hatched her first clutch of the year and Eve hatched her second.  That ended the hatching season for our breeding program.

In July we did Oliver’s first shearing.  Eve and Ruth were the first hens to share our “Mama Hen Pen” and raise their chicks together.  We enjoyed harvesting strawberries, peas, and greens from the gardens.  Our farm dog, Tundra, struggled with flies eating his ear and we tried everything possible to stop them and heal the wound.  We also started our canning season with cucumbers made into pickles in July.

August was spent harvesting, canning, harvesting, canning, and more harvesting and canning.  It was a wonderfully productive month of “puttin’ up.”  We also agreed to run an incubation to sell chicks again for someone.  Lastly, I started knitting my first-ever sweater.

In September we finished the last incubation of the year and sold all the chicks right after hatch.  We continued harvesting and canning.  We were very sad at the loss of our barn cat, Mattie.  The one-year anniversary of the flood and evacuation occurred and we were able to see the progress and acknowledge the blessings that occurred despite the disaster.  We butchered our first ever ram-lamb and enjoyed the meat it provided for our family.

We took a break from technology in October and didn’t blog.  During that month we finished up our canning and butchering season, filling the shelves and the freezer.  We started work on all the home-made Christmas presents.  And we added a new farm dog in-training to the farm – our Old-Time Scotch Collie pup, Finley.

In November we took the sheep to the breeder and left them there for 40 days with hopes for a spring full of lambs.  We harvested the last of the greens out of our screened planting box that we had put frost fabric over.  We had a bear attempt to get into our chicken coops 5 different times – thankfully he was unsuccessful and eventually went into hibernation.  We continued work on homemade gifts for Christmas.  And for Thanksgiving we had our first ever naturally raised turkey that we bought from a friend’s farm.

December brought a lot of treat making, and more working on Christmas gifts.  We had a big scare when our Silkie hen, Eve, almost drown in the new water trough.  Thankfully, she survived.  We were so excited for the opportunity to have the sheep ultra-sounded when we went to pick them up from the breeder.  We found out that Stella and Fiona are both pregnant and Daphne is most likely as well.  And even more exciting than the addition of lambs this spring is the addition of a new little someone to our family through adoption in 2015.

It has been such an amazing year full of blessings and adventures – and we are so excited for all the blessings and adventures to come in 2015!

Happy New Year!

Shearing Ollie – Our English Angora Rabbit

After many attempts at finding clippers that would work to shear our angora rabbit, Oliver, we have finally just settled on using scissors.  The cut isn’t as smooth, nor as closely cut, but it still works very well.  Over time we are perfecting our technique so as to not have as many second cuts (short unusable pieces of wool) and to have a smoother finish.  Oliver does great and even seems to enjoy the process, except for when we clip near his whiskers, which is understandable.  This last time he spent part of the time with his eyes closed half asleep.

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Oliver is ready for clipping every 10 weeks.  Once, we went 12 weeks because of busy-ness around the farm and it was definitely too late.  We were only able to keep about half of what he produced because of matting.  So we are now being careful to do it every ten weeks.

We have tried to shear him both on a counter or table, and in our laps.  He seems much calmer and more comfortable in our laps, although it is harder on our backs and necks to do it this way.  So we do it with him in our lap, but we do several shorter sessions over the day instead of one long session completing it all at once.  I think Oliver prefers the shorter sessions as well.

 

1We start by doing an overall brushing.  We brush him usually about once a week to keep the fiber neat and clean.  Despite the regular brushing, mats still form right behind his ears on his neck, behind his legs, and around the underside of his tail.  So after the overall brushing we focus on cutting all the mats out from behind his ears (and a few on his ears).

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Next, we trim the top of his head and the side of his face that is exposed in our lap.  He does not like having the side of his face trimmed, probably because his whiskers are sensitive.

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Then, to give him a break from the face work we begin working on the side of his body that is exposed.

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Usually by this point it is time for a break and he goes back to his cage for a few hours.

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We continue to get his back and sides complete.  We also trim his ears.  Lastly, we flip him onto his back and do his belly, legs, and tail area.  I don’t have pictures of this because it takes two of us to accomplish it, one holding him and one cutting.  We take it slow and careful on the legs and underside because there is looser skin there and we don’t want to cut him.

Here he is when we are finished:

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I know, he looks pretty scraggly.  Luckily, it only lasts a week or two and then it is grown enough to look even and nice.

Because we live in a cold climate, it is important to be careful when he is first shorn that he not get chilled.  He lives in our mud room, which is not heated.  So if it is chilly out we either put an electric heater in the mud room for a couple weeks or we move his cage indoors for a couple of weeks.  Just enough time for him to get a thicker coat on and not stress his system.

I am sure that over time with more practice we will all get quicker at this process.  But we are very happy with how well he does with it due to a lot of handling when we first got him.  I am saving away the fiber, excited to blend it with our sheep wool in the future for some super-soft yarn.

The First Shearing of Oliver – We Need Better Clippers

It was time for Oliver, our new Angora rabbit, to have his first shearing.  We have worked really purposefully at making him friendly and happy to be handled during the last month since we bought him.  We hold him, carry him around, and let him hop and play freely for a while each day.  I have brushed him nearly every day, clipped his nails, and turned him over belly up as well to help him get prepared for being sheared.

So how did it go?  Well, Oliver himself did excellent.  He tolerated the clippers and the shearing extremely well for his first time ever.

But….the clippers didn’t do so well.  I don’t know if they just need a sharpening, or if we need to buy nicer clippers.  They had a horrible time dealing with the thickness of his fur, and in the end I was only able to salvage about half of his “fleece” and he looked like we had tried to shear him with a lawn mower.  We will get the blades sharpened before the next clipping, and if that doesn’t work we will invest in some nicer clippers.  He will be shorn about every 10 weeks, so it will definitely be worth it to have clippers that work well.  So the next shearing we should get to keep a lot more fiber, and he should have a much cleaner, shorter hair cut and look much better…although he is still pretty darn cute!

The good news is that when you are as cute as Oliver, you can pull off just about any hair cut – even a majorly botched one.

Here he is before the shearing:

8First I carefully trimmed his face with scissors, trying to miss his whiskers because that seemed to bother him.

626143Next I ran the clippers straight down his back.  The color difference of his undercoat and outercoat was surprising, the contrast is more than the picture showed.

626141And here the poor guy is afterwards.

 

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The good news is that even with just a few days of growth he is already looking better.  It looks much more even and smooth and he seems happy to have the cooler fur length for the hot summer days.

My husband’s grandpa always said, “the difference between a bad hair cut and a good one is…about two weeks.”  I guess it is true with rabbits as well.